Jewish Lower East Side

Eldrige Street SynagogueSynagogue and MuseumAnother AngleClose upIntroduction of buildingAngel Orensanz Foundation
Inside OrensanzBluish LightsYours Truly InsideFrom the second floorInside the SukkaChabad of Tokyo Sukka Mobile
Front ViewInside the Chabad HouseView from outside inBooks at the Chabad HouseHarp Emblem of King DavidMe at City of David sign
Live Archeology at City of DavidTower of David at NightChandelier Fixture inside Tower of DavidOld City ArchwayOld City architecture close-upView of City of David at hills of Jerusalem

allofasuddenpartJew1′s photostream on Flickr.

Starting at Katz Deli, I walked around the Jewish areas of the Lower East Side in New York City. So much history and so much to see, so little time.

Merry Christmas to Christian friends worldwide

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On this Christmas Day, December 25, 2013, I would like to reflect on the power of one man’s birthday. Jesus was a great Jew who brought together many people to the one true G-d.

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Brooklyn Hasidics, Jewish Lower East Side, and Rambam’s 13 Principles

Only a few days until Christmas! First and foremost, I would like to wish my Christian friends a Merry Christmas 2013. In addition, I like to wish secular friends from around the world a happy gift-giving holiday. Christmas these days has become such a capitalist tradition, even in China where Christians are the minority.

Now back to NYC….

I made the short journey out to Williamsburg Brooklyn to survey the Hasidic community of NYC. Women wore head wraps and dressed in all black. Men wore black suits and had long curly sideburns. I walked around Lee and Division Street enclave areas and saw lots of kosher markets and restaurants. It was like a step back in time where clocks stopped turning. I would pass homes and the young children would turn to look at me, as if they are wondering what’s she doing here….

After a visit to Brooklyn, I took a Jewish walk around Lower East Side of Manhattan. I stopped at the Tenement Museum and took a food tour–boy was that a great decision. Likely, the best tour I have ever been on. I got to taste pickles, cheese, bialys, and green-tea puff pastry. The guides at the Tenement were awesome and friendly–they made everyone feel at home and super welcome. A bit later, a few friends joined me to walk around a few key Jewish institutions around LES. We met at the Katz’s Delicatessen, a place so famous there were lines wrapped around the next block. We stopped at the Eldridge Street Synagogue right before Shabbat and walked over to the Angel Orensenz Foundation after. Two exquisitely beautiful synagogues in Lower East Side’s Jewish history. My friends and I stopped to refresh at a local diner. I made my way to Jewish Queens later that night–and to the La Guardia airport the next morning.

Last but not least, Maimonides or Rambam passed away today in 1204. He is a famous Jewish philosopher and scholar who changed the course of Judaism forever. It was he who created the Mishneh Torah, the widest and broadest Jewish Law available. It was also he who created the 13 principles of faith of Judaism. If you call yourself a Jew, per Rambam, you should believe in the following: (Source: Wikipedia)

  1. The Existence of G-d
  2. G-d’s unity and indivisibility into elements
  3. G-d’s spirituality and incorporeality (sorry Christians!)
  4. G-d’s eternity
  5. G-d alone should be the object of worship
  6. Revelation through G-d’s prophets
  7. The preeminence of Moses among the prophets
  8. The Torah that we have today is the one dictated to Moses by G-d
  9. The Torah given by Moses will not be replaced and that nothing may be added or removed from it
  10. G-d’s awareness of human actions
  11. Reward of good and punishment of evil
  12. The coming of the Jewish Messiah
  13. The resurrection of the dead

I left New York City yesterday and am now in the southern USA spending the holidays with family.

Until next time, let’s memorize these 13 principles! :-)

A Jewish New York to Remember

New York City, otherwise known as the “Big Apple”, is an amazing city. I’m enjoying myself a lot here staying in the TriBeCa area.

My first encounter with it was the last semester of University of Texas at Austin. I was evaluating two first job offers, one based in Dallas and the other in New York City. New York City to me at the time was an intimidating monster–full of rude, aggressive, and competitive people looking out for their own best interests to make and keep money. It wasn’t a city that I saw myself in, living or traveling to. I was simply too ignorant of what the massive metropolis had to offer on the brighter side.

Fast forward to 2013, walking around New York City seems like second nature to me. I am staying here for five days to explore some Jewish history, meet some new people, and try a Shul or two.

Wednesday night I met Elke Reva Sudin, a Jewish contemporary artist from Brooklyn. We had a fantastic vegetarian dinner at Cafe Blossom in Upper West Side talking various things Jewish and Chinese. She is the founder of Jewish Art Now, a “central portal for the convergence of Judaism and contemporary art with a fresh and innovative perspective”. Check out her art.

Thursday I met with Jeff Orlick, founder of Wox and Lox. Wox and Lox is the first and only Jewish and Chinese Christmas dinner in New York City. This year’s dinner is on December 28. If you are in the New York City area at that time, give it a try.

Tomorrow and Saturday I will be touring the historical Jewish Lower East Side. I will make a stop at the Tenement Museum to tour the food of Jewish LES. Friday night will be at the OZ Synagogue for Shabbat and Saturday I am contemplating a trip to Williamsburg to visit the Hasidic community.

Will post pics soon,

Xiaoming

Aside

My Trip to the Chabad House of Tokyo, Japan

Inside the SukkaChabad of Tokyo Sukka MobileFront ViewInside the Chabad HouseView from outside inBooks at the Chabad House
Harp Emblem of King DavidMe at City of David signLive Archeology at City of DavidTower of David at NightChandelier Fixture inside Tower of DavidOld City Archway
Old City architecture close-upView of City of David at hills of JerusalemView of the Old City from outsideChristian Church at Mount of OlivesMount of Olives graveyardOld City Gate
Muslim Graveyard next to Mount of OlivesEngraving inside the Old CityMuslim Quarters street view inside the Old CityCisterns below the Old City WallsTunnels under the Western WallCloseup of underground tunnels by King Herod

allofasuddenpartJew1′s photostream on Flickr.

On my recent visit to Tokyo, Japan, I made a stop at the Chabad House of Tokyo. I enjoyed a Sukkoth Celebration with the Rabbi and his wife under the Sukka and also took time to visit the Sukka Mobile of the Center. Enjoy the photos!

Reflections from Israel: Haifa

Part II: Haifa

My original plan was to travel to Haifa on Saturday—but as demonstrated earlier—My plan was shuffled to Sunday instead. A review of Israel’s geography shows that Israel is a tiny country, around the size of the state of New Jersey. Haifa is an ancient port city located on the Northwestern coast of Israel. It is home to a famous landmark that is amazingly not Jewish: the Baha’i Gardens. For those who don’t know, Baha’i is a recent addition to the monotheistic faiths that preaches unity. According to bahai.org,  “…all the world’s religions represent stages in the revelation of God’s will and purpose for humanity.” I personally believe this is something true.

We often meet people who cross our paths later in life. My trip to Haifa was a pristine example. Five years ago, on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I met a nice Jewish-Israeli lady. Through the years, we kept in contact and became friends. Haifa is her hometown and she was kind enough to introduce me to a friend of hers who lives there. Her friend and I connected on Facebook and she gave me practical advice about Haifa, Israeli public transportation, and Israel in general. She and her husband, a newlywed couple, were super-nice and even hosted me for an evening.

I checked my smart phone for the time, forty minutes until train departure. Earlier Saturday, I researched the train schedule from Tel Aviv to Haifa. I noticed there are trains running post-Shabbat. After some back and forth with my Haifa hosts, we decided it was easier to depart for Haifa Saturday evening, sight see Sunday morning, and return Sunday afternoon—to be back in time for my friend’s wedding in Jerusalem. I waited outside of my Tel Aviv apartment for the taxi to take me to the Central Train Station. Geez, they are late. My Tel Aviv hosts had called a taxi for me and they said there is a five-minute wait. It has been ten already! A beam of light in the darkening day snapped me out of frustration. It stopped in front me and a pair of eyes looked out at me from within. About time I thought!

It was the first Saturday evening post-Shabbat train up the Israeli western coastline. The shadows of the night covered up what was to be a fantastic view of the coast in daylight. Wow, pretty advanced! I thought to myself upon discovering the train itself, in addition to the train station, had free Wi-Fi. I had an hour to kill, why not research a bit about Haifa’s history and place in the Middle East.

I typed “Haifa” into Google search and clicked on the first search result, Wikipedia. Haifa, according to Wiki, is the third largest city in Israel. It was founded around three thousand years ago during the Late Bronze Age operating as a port and dye-making center. It is known as the “San Francisco of Israel” due to the city being built into hills like the former. The city was developed in “tiers” into Mount Carmel. I knew about the breathtaking views from upper Haifa and was secretly excited to finally see it in person.

The train slowed down, I turn to look at the information monitor to make sure the stop is for Haifa. Upon confirmation, I lifted my bags and pulled them over my shoulders and disembarked. I have to find the bus station. My Haifa hosts said the bus is the easiest and most inexpensive method to get from the station to their neighborhood. Seeing the crowd move in a certain direction, I followed them thinking the majority is probably also headed there. My hunch was correct as the sign for the bus stop came visible. Let’s see, I need bus #132. I walked through the bus station, saw busy #132, and waited.

More and more people gathered for bus #132. When it finally arrived, people were all fighting to board. The bus took its route around and up Mount Carmel. Predicting that my stop was coming up, I walked up to the bus driver to make sure. From the bus, I saw my Haifa host waiting for me. I got off and shook her hand and said nice to meet you. She was an attractive girl with long brown hair, gentle soul, and kind heart. We made small chat while she guided me to her apartment. We walked up few flights of stairs and arrived at our home for the evening. There I met her husband – who was also handsome, generous, and a great cook to boot!

They made a bed for me in the living area, introduced me to their adorable cat, and made me some dinner. I was really thankful for the hospitality that they showed me. After dinner, we went for a stroll to see Haifa at night. All the while, discussing options for where to go on Sunday morning. After taking in the serene view of Haifa, we went for some ice cream in the local hangout area. I learned that Haifa has the world’s only subway system that is vertical–it is used to go up and down Mount Carmel. How cool! Definitely have to come back again to try it.

With our sweet tooth satisfied, we headed home. I was pretty tired by then, so it was no surprise that I quickly fell asleep with the delightful evening breeze. The next morning, I showered, brushed my teeth, and washed my face. I’m only going to have time to visit the Baha’i Gardens today I thought to myself while holding a toothbrush. I packed and organized all my belongings. My hosts made me a lovely french toast breakfast, gave me a backpack to hold all my belongings and I was off on the Haifa adventure.

Retracing the same path as the evening before, I now can see the beautiful Haifa view in full daylight. The blue skies and oceans touch to form a distance border. I stepped up the pace to make an English guided tour of the Gardens at noon. The meeting point for the Baha’i Gardens guided tours uses an alternative entryway. Security was tight as the guard checked my backpack twice over. The Baha’i Garden is built into the side of a mountain. To tour it, one must keep descending the steps of the Garden around the fountains, terraces, and other structures. Our guide was a slender and tall Jewish woman with dirty blonde locks. She gave us some history of the Baha’i faith, how it is organized, and its followers today. I took many photos to preserve my memory of this beautiful location.

Halfway through the tour, many were drenched in sweat and tried to stand in the shaded areas. The sunlight was punishing our tour group I thought. When we reached the end of the garden, I was part relieved and part sad to see the tour end. I had no time to worry though; I hopped in a taxi and headed for the train station.

I must make it in time to Jerusalem for my friend’s wedding this evening!!

Next time: Eternal Jerusalem

Israel For the First Time: Reflections in the Holy Land

Part 1: Arrival, Tel Aviv sights and sounds

Walking along the cobble-stoned boulevards lined with noisy markets selling goods in all the colors of the rainbow, I turned around and looked all around me. Breathtaking, I thought whilst melting into the heavenly surroundings. I’m actually in Jerusalem. The legendary Jerusalem that all the roads supposedly lead to—as the fabled saying goes – and I can see that its true.

Damn, I have to head to the train station to return to Tel Aviv in ten minutes. My friend and I jostled for a few last-minute purchases in the market (presents for friends back home) and climbed upwards out of the market towards Jaffa Gate in the Old City. Memories of the past week flashed in my mind mixed with the possible hell of missing my train back to Tel Aviv. Where is an available taxi!! We practiced our zoom vision focus.

Just a week ago, I stood on the cramped roads of Hong Kong, taking care of last-minute details of my weeklong trip to Israel. Like Hong Kong, Israel’s summers are desperately hot. Unlike Hong Kong, Israel’s heat is accompanied with less humidity. That should be all right, I’d just pack lots of summer dresses and sunscreens. I headed towards Hong Kong’s Mong Kok neighborhood to stock up on necessary travel essentials.

My childhood friend is getting married in Jerusalem. It was a last-minute wedding planned in the Jewish heartland. I haven’t seen or spoken to her since our University days. How time flies and paths cross. We met in Houston, Texas, my hometown back in the day. Fast forward fifteen years, we are meeting again, this time in Israel. Never in my wildest imagination could I have foreseen this one.

I hurried home to secure all belongings in my suitcase. With my bags packed, I boarded a shuttle bus for the airport. It was my virgin flight on El Al Airlines – Israel’s national airlines. Security was what I expected, long, thorough, and detailed. I can’t complain; airline personnel are only doing their jobs.

Fast forward twelve hours, 4820 miles west, and five time zones backwards; I arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport. I’m used to flying in the other direction, east–east back to the United States to visit family and friends. I made my way past closed shops (it was a little past 23:00 when I landed) and to the immigration headache section. There were no Doctors in sight for about an hour. Finally, a breakthrough and I was approved to enter Israel.

First few days was spent in the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo–great city to explore on foot. It is a city of diverse contrasts from its pristine beaches to Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew), one of the oldest port cities in the Middle East. Its neighborhoods range from hippy to Bauhaus to modern cool. This diversity and contrast can be deceiving, as Tel Aviv still is able to retain its small city and local feel.

August is also one of the busiest months for Tel Aviv, tourist-wise. The hotel rates skyrocket like the city overheated by the unrelenting sun. The locals and many tourists take cover at the beaches of the city, which runs along Tel Aviv’s western border. You can find the many luxury and boutique hotels and follow them to the beaches. There is a street called Shlomo Lahat Promenade that you can walk on starting just a bit south of the Tel Aviv Port all the way down south to the Etsel Museum close to Jaffa. It is a leisurely walk that may take you anywhere from thirty to forty minutes depending on your speed. You can heat up pretty fast walking outside without shade so bring plenty of water or other liquids for replenishment.

I stayed with a lovely couple that I found through Airbnb in the Central District of Tel Aviv. They have two friendly Siberian cats with long coats. In their free time, the cats like to chase the pigeons that made its home somewhere on the rooftops. As a former cat owner, I befriended them pretty quickly. I had my own miniature fridge to use so I went around the neighborhood grocery stores and bought the basics like bottled water, yogurt, and fruit.

The beach was a fifteen-minute walk from their apartment. One day I decided to take a leisurely stroll and explore the beach. The street I walked on was full of cute little boutique clothing shops, cafes, and international restaurants. It could have very well come out of Western Europe somewhere. As I scaled closer and closer to the beach, a strip of blue horizontal sea came into view. The closer I got, the bigger the sea appeared until the beach flashed in front of me in a way that I just can’t miss. The crystal blueness of the water was nature at its most natural and finest state. So beautiful! I found a restaurant/bar on the beach, sat, and ordered a lunch. It was a wonderful way to enjoy the beach and people watch at the same time.

The Jewish weekend is Friday and Saturday. It is a fact that hit me straight on the noggin in Israel. I should have been aware of this fact prior to my trip that I somehow overlooked. Many public transportation and services close late Friday and Saturday. I had to plan around Saturday instead of Sunday, what I’m used to in Christian-based societies. A few months back in Hong Kong, I met Rabbi Gilad Kariv of Israel’s Movement for Progressive Judaism. I was able to get in contact with someone on his team who connected me to a local Tel Aviv Congregation Beit Daniel to attend a Shabbat Service. Services started at 18:00. I called for a taxi to the synagogue and arrived a few minutes past 18:00. The synagogue was modest in appearance front the outside and inside. It was located in a residential neighborhood bordered by a recreational park on one side. Hebrew radiated from the center as I grabbed a prayer-book and sat down. Sounds of screaming children cut through the Hebrew sermon, as a childcare center was located a little too close for comfort. The congregation looked very diverse, men and women of all ages and races sitting together in harmony. I enjoyed the services although could only understand a few choice Hebrew words and all of the spoken English.

That night, my hosts had a small potluck party. I joined them and brought some various pastries and cookies for the dessert selection. Three of their friends came over to the apartment with bread, salad, and meat dishes to share. The home-cooked food was amazing to see and to taste. I’ve always thought that Middle Eastern food was average. Traveling to the Middle East has since changed that opinion. The varieties of vegetables, fruits, hummus was to die for. The cheese selection is enormous, if only I could eat dairy! We had a good night and I was thankful to have been invited.

Next day, I continued to explore Tel Aviv’s fascinating neighborhoods. I walked through markets with very good prices on clothing. I walked through the white section of Tel Aviv otherwise known as Bauhaus. I walked through my new favorite neighborhood called Neve Tzedek. According to TelAvivGuide, Neve Tzedek was the first neighborhood built in the “new” city of Tel Aviv. Many art galleries, jewelers, crafts, healthy foods, and small shops can be found here. Streets are lined with lush plantation in bloom in purples, yellows, and reds. It almost has a Tuscany feel to it. I was immediately taken back to my trip to Italy a decade ago. As picturesque as it feels, it also doesn’t disappoint as it boasts many artists and yuppies that live in the area.

Next time: My journey to Haifa

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